‘One Foot on the Ground, One Foot in the Water’ Exhibition Explores our Relationship with Death, Mourning and Loss

Warning: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are warned that the following article includes details some readers may find distressing.
‘With things being as they are’ by Nell (2017) (foreground). ‘Mother of the Dry Tree’ by Nell (2017) (background). Photo credit Ian Hill. Courtesy of Weekend Notes, 2022.
One Foot on the Ground, One Foot in the Water is a collaborative art exhibition that explores our relationship with death, mourning and loss across a spectrum of cultures. The incredible exhibition was first displayed in 2020 at the La Trobe Art Institute in Bendigo. It is now set to take place at the Bunjil Place Gallery, before moving from the Museum of Art and Culture Lake Macquarie, to the Pinnacles Gallery, Tweed Regional Gallery and finishing at the Burnie Regional Gallery in November 2023 (NIT, 2022).

The Artists 

Crucifixes’ by Rechard Lewer ‘Crucifixes’ by Rechard Lewer (2018), fired stoneware. Courtesy of Art Almanac, 2020.

The exhibition features 11 contemporary artists from Australia, the UK and USA - all coming from a range of different cultural backgrounds and religions. The artists include Patrick Freddy Puruntatameri, Nell Nawurapu Wunuŋmurra, Catherine Bell, Timothy Cook, French & Mottershead, Mabel Juli, Richard Lewer, Sara Morawetz and Michael Needham. Their artworks range from paintings and sculptures, to installations and sound-works that explore different cultures' relationships with death and loss. The artists also express their personal feelings about mortality in our recent uncertain times, showing the impermanence of our existence (Weekend Notes, 2022).

An Exhibition Curated by Koorie Heritage Trust’s Travis Curtin 

Foreground - ‘With things being as they are’ by Nell (2017), background - ‘Purukuparli’ and ‘Waiyai’ by Patrick Freddy Puruntatameri (2020) and ‘Kulama’ by Timothy Cook (2013). Photo by Ian Hill, Courtesy of Weekend Notes, 2022.

The exhibition is curated by Travis Curtin from the Koorie Heritage Trust. In an interview with NIT (2022), Curtin talked about what they are aiming to achieve through putting together this unique exhibition:

“We’ve tried to present perspectives by Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists…As a curator I’m always working with other people’s cultures, and I think it’s so important to try to present and bring together as many diverse perspectives as I can.”

Curtin went on to talk about how grief can bring communities together:

“The grief process is very complex, and regardless of our cultural backgrounds, we come together as communities. So the exhibition has tried to capture a range of those experiences.”

In putting together this exhibition, Curtin has also drawn from his own experiences of loss and grief with the passing of his partner. He expressed that “loss has been a very potent artistic influence” for him over the last decade (NIT, 2022).

Mabel Juli’s Artwork 

‘Garnkiny Ngarranggarni’ by Mabel Juli (2020): natural earth pigments and charcoal on linen. Photo credit: Ian Hill. Courtesy of Art Guide Australia, 2022.

For the exhibition, Indigenous artist Mabel Juli painted her artwork, Garnkiny Ngarranggarni. She is a proud Gija woman from Warmun, East Kimberly in Western Australia. The established artist is nationally known for broadening her Indigenous community’s colour palette by adding colours like pink, purple and green to the traditionally used ochre colours (Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, 2022). However, in this artwork the Gija woman has stuck to using natural ochre and charcoal. Garnkiny Ngarranggarni tells a Dreaming story about forbidden love, and the complexities of death and rebirth (La Trobe Art Institute, 2020). 

For the exhibition, Mabel Juli was interviewed by the La Trobe Art Institute (2020) about her artwork, and how death and rebirth are a natural part of her culture. When asked about what happens when people die, she responded with: 

“When they [people] die, they come back, they come back to other people, they are reborn. ‘Jarriny’ is the spirit that is reborn.”

Juli went on to talk about what happens to a person's body when they pass away:

“They used to put them in paperbark, sometimes they used to wrap them in a blanket. They put them in a rocky place. Sometimes they bury them in the ground. Or they put them inside a cave. There are lots of burial places everywhere in Gija Country.”

One Foot on the Ground, One Foot in the Water is an exhibition that beautifully encapsulates cultural diversity, both in the cultures represented, and the personal experiences of loss that are expressed through the artist's works. The exhibition hopes to help us all talk more freely about death, it invites viewers to be with their grief and consider the impermanence of all life. 

We highly recommend visiting this beautiful exhibition if you have the chance. It will be opening at the Bunjil Place Gallery in Melbourne on February 19th, and will show until April 24th, you can find more information here